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Crime Of The Century - A Chilling Look At Crime Statistics In The UK


On the other hand, to ‘do nothing’ is not a viable alternative. Perhaps the second important message of this research is that of inconsistency between forces – with one force recording only one-third of allegations and another well over a half. To the extent that some forces are currently promoting moves to record the allegations made to them comprehensively (and that they are successful in this endeavour), while others maintain rigid ‘entry criteria’ in this area (e.g. not accepting the accounts of any victims who are drunk or drugged), then the disparity threatens to widen.


These differences will not be addressed overnight. Across forces the processes by which forces deal with crime allegations have developed in widely divergent ways (and some would argue they are ‘set in stone’ by the massive investment in supporting computer systems, etc.). By comparison, the challenge of ensuring consistency in the criteria applied in deciding to record crimes seems relatively minor. A course of action that would remove much of current inconsistency would lie in the adoption of a strong line in the Counting Rules to the effect that forces should adopt ‘prima facie’ standards in all cases. In simple terms, the line might be that the police should assume an incident has occurred in the way described by any victim or complainant, unless there is concrete evidence that it did not.


But, as well as the substantial increases in crime that would result, consideration would need to be given to a consequential impact on other aspects of police work. Such a change might, for example, lead the service into targeting follow-up enquiries on crimes that are easily detectable, so as to maintain clear up rates. Moreover formulating and agreeing new standards with the senior management of the police service is only half the task – the next hurdle would be to ‘sell the message’ to tens of thousands of operational police officers, and civilians, who make the day-to-day decisions on crime recording.


Reflecting these formidable challenges, a modest set of recommendations over three fronts seem appropriate in the first instance.


Further research and analysis of the ‘recording shortfall’


The current review has not fully investigated all the possible contributory factors to the recording shortfall. The impact of the new Counting Rules during their first year of operation (April 1998 to April 1999) will throw more light on this issue, as will other work in progress, such as the inclusion of force identifiers on BCS data. The BCS should do more, either in the survey itself, or in its methodological preparatory work, to explore the issues surrounding respondents’ reporting to the police. Further small-scale investigations – for example, into the frequency of crime against the same victims by the same offender – could investigate key areas that might account for discrepancies between the BCS and recorded crime. On a larger scale, the most effective mechanism by which the recording shortfall could be addressed would be by ‘tracking’ cases reported by BCS interviewees to see if they were indeed reported, and recorded, by the appropriate police force.


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